The Coen Brothers’ latest comedy “Hail, Caesar!” is a loving tribute to the era of classical Hollywood, meticulously crafted with layers of reference, inside jokes, and tidbits of history that will excite any film buff. Not to fret if you haven’t caught up with every episode of the Hollywood history podcast “You Must Remember This” (although you should), “Hail, Caesar!” is every bit as fun and entertaining regardless of whether you’re picking up on every true life tale. The Coens have created a film that is at once a meta commentary on Hollywood’s studio system, while also indulging in the pure pleasure of visual spectacle that marked many films of this period.
With a star-studded cast, “Hail, Caesar!” belongs primarily to Josh Brolin, who plays Eddie Mannix, a studio fixer at Capitol Pictures. The real Eddie Mannix was a studio fixer at MGM Studios from the 1920s to 1940s, but that’s where the obvious biographical element ends. The stars with whom Brolin’s Mannix tangles are lightly fictionalized mashups of real celebrities, with scrambled personal histories. Scarlett Johansson’s DeAnna Moran is an Esther Williams-esque swimming superstar, with a Brooklyn accent to beat the best, and a pregnancy pickle to rival Loretta Young’s.
The film follows a day in the life of manic Mannix, as he rushes around the lot, putting out fires big and small. The biggest involves Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), the star of the Biblical epic “Hail, Caesar!” who’s been drugged and kidnapped by a shadowy organization known as the Future (consider the paranoia of the late ’40s and early ’50s, and you might be able to hazard a guess as to the Future’s motives). The group of nefarious, nebbishy intellectuals are a classic Coen bunch of deadpan delights.
Author Seth Grahame-Smith has dined out on the winning combination of stitching together two incongruous things, one high-brow, one low, and letting the concept do the heavy lifting. “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” gave readers, and then movie-going audiences, an axe-twirling Honest Abe. His other literary soft-serve swirl hits theaters this weekend, in “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.” The cheeky adaptations offer a chuckle at the title, but there’s not much else to sink your teeth into. But while “Abraham Lincoln” resulted in a rather disastrous action flick, “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” far outpaces its predecessor. The result is a post-modern genre mashup of Austen, zombies and martial arts that ends up being rather “exceedingly tolerable,” to quote Mr. Darcy.
The best thing the film has going for it is its knowing self-awareness, the winking at the unlikely pairing of mannered 18th century aristocratic English society with the brutal and gory violence of the modern-day zombie movie. The violence adds a kick to Austen’s sophisticated and layered text — the verbal jabs are now accented with body blows, and the coupling offers a strange delight. For every time that Keira Knightley bit her tongue and repressed her emotions playing the feisty Elizabeth Bennett in Joe Wright’s filmed version of the story, here, Lily James gets to deliver a cathartic roundhouse kick right to Mr. Darcy’s (Sam Riley) smug nose.
If you’re one of those people — and I’m with you — who roll your eyes when handed a pair of 3-D glasses at the multiplex, wondering if all this rigmarole is REALLY necessary, then take heart: The lovely, color-popping visuals in “Kung Fu Panda 3” are well worth those darned glasses.
And the evocative DreamWorks Animation visuals are accompanied by just enough heart, witty dialogue and kid-friendly humor — anything about gorging on dumplings, for example — to make this an all-around extremely satisfying third installment in the popular series. Like a well-made dumpling, it’s not too heavy but not too light, has the right amount of spice, and leaves one with some appetite for the next time.
The problem with “The Finest Hours” starts with the title. If you know the movie is about a perilous boat rescue and it’s called “The Finest Hours,” it robs any ounce of suspense that might be achieved during all of the roiling seas and ocean thrashing that follows — those guys are probably going to pull off that rescue. Unfortunately bogged down by its own generic conventions, coupled with a bland script, “The Finest Hours” doesn’t achieve the tension that it should for this incredible true story of a 1952 Cape Cod small boat rescue. In fact, your interest might be more piqued when the credits roll, when photographs of the real people are juxtaposed with their Hollywood counterparts, because it’s something different and interesting.
And what Hollywood counterparts they are. Chris Pine takes on the aw-shucks role of Coast Guardsman Bernie Webber, who’s written as the straightest, most guileless arrow that could be. Representing Boston is Casey Affleck, who plays Ray Sybert, the engine master of the oil tanker battling stormy seas. (The Massachusetts accents are laid on so thick, it’s a shock that a Wahlberg doesn’t pop up.) There’s a lot of hemming and hawing, but we all know that Webber’s going to go save Sybert and his men.
Beginning in 1920s Copenhagen, “The Danish Girl” is a beautiful film about beautiful people moving through the art world in beautiful suits and frocks. One of these people, Einar Wegener, a landscape painter of some renown, trades his suit for a frock. He becomes a she, and she — Lili Elbe — is at the center of Tom Hooper’s true-life, transgender romantic tragedy.
Hooper, who won an Oscar for another elegant historical piece featuring a tormented gent, “The King’s Speech,” likes to frame his actors in dramatic spaces — artfully distressed walls, open balcony windows, the facades of stately city streets. “The Danish Girl” is no exception. It looks lovely in an art-directed way, and Eddie Redmayne, who won his Oscar earlier in the year for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything,” looks lovely, too. Especially as he goes all-in, transforming himself from the shy, mysterious Einar to the shy, mysterious Lili.
Arresting and heartbreaking, wrought with extremes of tension and love, “Room” is as evocative and unforgettable on screen as in the bestselling novel that inspired it.
This is the kind of film you never forget you saw. Originally crafted and ingeniously adapted by Emma Donoghue, “Room” burrows itself deep in the mind and becomes a permanent resident. It is a story of the transformative power of childhood innocence and parental love.
Everything in director Michael Bay’s cinematic vocabulary — the glamorizing slo-mo, the falling bomb point-of-view shots, the low-angle framing of his heroes with blue sky, fireballs or an American flag in the background — suggests not real life, or the way things might have happened, but a Michael Bay movie.
It’s true of the “Transformers” movies and it’s true of “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi.” Bay’s latest is a mixed-up blend of truth and distortion. Parts of it deliver a punch, and a jolt, and ripples of earnest (and even complicated) emotion. Then the characters, some of them composites or fabrications, start talking again. The cliches tumble out. And Bay gets preoccupied with delivering audience-baiting “kill shots,” engineered to appease our bloodlust and avenge our enemies.
Watching the “Ride Along” films (this is the second installment in the buddy cop franchise) is an exercise in succumbing to Kevin Hart’s unique, manic charms. By the end, it’s most likely you’ll be laughing at the antics of the bite-sized comic — whose style is reminiscent of an over-enthusiastic puppy nipping at your ankles — even if you’re not sure why. This is why Ice Cube is the perfect audience proxy as Hart’s tough and taciturn counterpart; while he initially wants to bat the irritating pup away, Hart’s persistence and moxie are difficult to resist.
“Ride Along” saw Cube as James Patton, a hard-boiled detective of few words, pressured by his sister Angie (Tika Sumpter) to take her boyfriend Ben (Hart) along for a ride, on which disastrous capers, and some unlikely detective work, ensued. In “Ride Along 2,” directed again by Tim Story, James heads for parts south after a “Fast and the Furious”-style opener, in which he uncovers a mysterious USB drive from a drug dealer with a hacker’s calling card leading him Miami. You can guess who begs to go along for the ride again. This time, Ben’s a fresh police academy graduate, who’s a bit of an idiot-savant when it comes to law enforcement.
January’s a notoriously rough month for movie releases. Most audiences are catching up on their late-December Oscar contenders, so the new release pickings are slim. But for younger audiences, any light-hearted animated fare will do, and that’s where “Norm of the North” comes in. It might take place in the arctic, but “Frozen” this is most decidedly not. For the tots, the film is blandly inoffensive enough to offer some Saturday afternoon entertainment, but this isn’t one of those crossover hits that parents can enjoy just as much as their kids.
In a rapid-fire burst of introductory exposition, we meet Norm (voiced by Rob Schneider). He’s a polar bear, he’s bad at hunting because he’s got a weakness for cute-sad seal eyes, he likes to dance, and he also speaks “human,” which means he’s going to be the king of the arctic, or so says his Grandpa (Colm Meaney). While searching for his purpose in life, Norm discovers a Frank Gehry-esque model home perched on an iceberg in his backyard, and the plan to turn the North Pole into the newest condo development. Norm decides to stow away to New York City to stop the humans from invading his home.
Everything you’ve heard about the bear is true.
The frenzied grizzly-on-man attack in “The Revenant,” director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s brutal and beautiful gut-punch of a film, is such an explosion of ursine rage that it is both hard to watch and fascinating (how did they do that?).
I drove by a four-screen neighborhood theater the other day, and the marquee said, simply: STAR WARS. Playing on all four screens. There was a time, before the Force awakened, when other movies existed.
Friends, that time has returned. It is early 2016, and while “The Force Awakens” will be around for a while, other promising options are coming our way, in all sorts of genres.
“The Hateful Eight” is not for the faint at heart. What Quentin Tarantino movie is? But while cinema’s favorite cinephile is up to some of his old tricks in his eighth feature, this over three hour long drawing room thriller also feels like a step forward for the wayward enfant terrible — a step toward maturity.
That’s not to say he’s mellowed. You need only spend a minute with 87-year-old Ennio Morricone’s throbbing, malicious score to know that to be true. Instead, Tarantino shows relaxed power with “The Hateful Eight.” It’s easy authority that’s less manic than the cinematic language we’ve grown to expect from him. And it still packs a punch to the gut, or, in the spirit of Jennifer Jason Leigh’s murderous prisoner, some repeated blows to the head.
If you are an extreme sports junkie, “Point Break” is cocaine. If you are a fan of good writing, it’s a placebo.
This “Point Break” is less of a remake and more of a re-imagining of the 1991 cult classic cops-and-surfers film starring Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze. The production is loaded with visually stunning stunts. In an effort to give the movie as much visual splendor as possible, director Ericson Core (“Invincible”) opted to go with real locations — like the sheer cliff walls of Angel Falls — rather than resorting to green screens.
Here are capsule reviews of feature films showing in the Kenosha area.
“Concussion” — Will Smith stars as a forensic neuropathologist who discovers the first case of CTE, a football-related brain trauma, and challenges the NFL in his battle to reveal the truth. With Alec Baldwin, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Morse and Albert Brooks. Written and directed by Peter Landesman, based on the GQ article “Game Brain” by Jeanne Marie Laskas. (2:03) PG-13.
Who needs plots? Lately, some of the most alert, polished films have been ones moving in random, eccentric directions. In fact, several of them have come from writer/director David O. Russell, whose sixth sense for what audiences will enjoy brought us “The Fighter,” “Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Hustle.” His trademark point and counterpoint stories offer a screwball sitcom, a fairy tale with social asides, and a feel-good salute to middle-class American moral fiber all at the same time.
“Joy,” the third collaboration from Russell and his ensemble players Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro, is his usual good mix of fluff and melodrama, and then some. Full of shaggy-dog charm, it’s an easy film to like.
“Concussion,” written and directed by Peter Landesman, establishes two things right away — the extreme reverence that people have for football, through a Hall of Fame acceptance speech by Pittsburgh Steeler “Iron Mike” Webster (David Morse), and the bona fides of Dr. Bennet Omalu (Will Smith), an extremely well-educated Nigerian immigrant and forensic neuropathologist in the Pittsburgh coroner’s office. These are the two conflicting forces throughout the film: the love of the game and the undeniability of science. The basis for the film, the 2009 GQ article “Game Brain” by Jeanne Marie Laskas (she also wrote the subsequent book “Concussion”), relies more heavily on the latter.
Dr. Omalu is a curious, sensitive man, excited about his work; the kind of coroner who treats his bodies as people, asking them to help him find out what happened to them. This is where Iron Mike ends up, dead at 50, scarred by self-inflicted Taser wounds, living out of his truck, tormented by voices in his head. Needing to know why he ended up this way, Bennet sets off down a self-funded path to discovery, and finds that what he discovers is something that one of the most powerful organizations in the country wants to keep quiet.
It’s OK if you’re skeptical about the Will Ferrell vs. Mark Wahlberg vehicle “Daddy’s Home.” The trailers have showcased obvious, lowest common denominator humor that doesn’t look too promising. But the reality is that the film, directed by comedy vet Sean Anders, is much funnier than it appears — never doubt the powers of Will Ferrell.
Ferrell is at his best when he’s playing a buffoonish naif; the sweet-natured bull in the china shop who just can’t seem to get anything right (see: Christmas classic “Elf”) That’s exactly what “Daddy’s Home” delivers. He’s well-matched in Wahlberg too, who is deceptively sharp as the badass biological dad Dusty.
J.J. Abrams may not elevate the language of “Star Wars,” but he sure is fluent in it. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is no more and no less than the movie that made us love it in the first place. In fact, it’s basically the same thing. Isn’t that what we all wanted anyway?
It’s hard to talk rationally about “Star Wars.” It is a deeply silly thing, with a genuine, undeniable hold on our culture. Chalk it up to nostalgia, collective arrested development or the ineffable. But for many, the magic of “Star Wars” is inseparable from the magic of the movies and, hey, that’s no small thing.
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Riding galaxy-sized expectations, the new “Star Wars” movie opening today is setting records for pre-opening ticket sales. But does that mean the movie is destined to be the biggest of all time?
Though several signs point in that direction, the outcome isn’t guaranteed.
A lot of very talented and likable people came together to make “Sisters.” Stars Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are much beloved for their iconic TV characters, longtime “Saturday Night Live” writer Paula Pell contributes the screenplay, and “Pitch Perfect” director Jason Moore takes on helming duties. It’s a shame then, that with all these fine creators, this scattershot comedy just doesn’t gel in the way that it should.
One of the main problems with “Sisters” is that stars Fey and Poehler, while clearly having fun together, are not on the same page in terms of their performance choices. Poehler is heartfelt and realistic as overly caring and concerned nurse Maura, while Fey performs a sloppily conceived caricature of trainwreck cougar party girl/single mom, Kate. Fey seems as if she’s in an “SNL” sketch, only halfway committed to the part, with a wink-wink, nudge-nudge air of irony, while Poehler seems like she’s actually in a movie.
The persistence of “Alvin and the Chipmunks” as a cultural text is rather baffling. The mischievous singing rodents were created in 1958 for a novelty record, which makes them 57 years old. You’re probably familiar with that record, as it usually gets some air time this season, and features that inimitably high-pitched ear worm chorus, “Please, Christmas, don’t be late.” It’s amazing to think that that song has been tormenting parents for nearly six decades now.
These are some tenacious chipmunks, refusing to be relegated to the pop-culture cast-off bin. The characters have starred in various animated series throughout the years, and were yanked into the millennium in 2007 with a film featuring live-action performers along with the chatty chipmunks. It’s been so successful that the fourth installment “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip” drops this weekend, against “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” As counter-programming, it’s kind of genius, a kid-friendly flick in case you didn’t score tickets to the new space adventure.